When thinking back on some of the most defining high school-based shows of the 2000s, “Gossip Girl” inevitably comes to mind. Leaving behind a legacy that spawned dozens of other provocative teen shows (“Pretty Little Liars,” “Euphoria”), expectations were high when HBO Max announced a forthcoming reboot of the influential show.
Leading up to the premiere of the revival, many longtime fans of the show were puzzled by producers’ comments about the “socially aware” tone of the reboot and worried that it would lack the catty fights and shamelessly elitist characters that made the original so intriguing. When the pilot episode “Just Another Girl on MTA,” directed by Karena Evans and written by Joshua Safran, arrived on July 8, the results were mixed.
While the reboot brings back the catfights and social climbers of the original, it lacks the sleek high-class elegance and superficial yet vulnerable characters that made viewers fall in love with the show. The blissfully unaware characters of the original series have been replaced with a group whose social awareness comes off as forced and contrived.
On a more positive note, the soundtrack is exactly what fans would hope for and expect from “Gossip Girl” in 2021, featuring music from Billie Eilish, Junglep***y and Rosalía. One of the musical and narrative highlights occurs when the “Gossip Girl” voice overs return to the tune of “Positions” by Ariana Grande.
The rediscovery of the old “Gossip Girl” forums and the references to characters from the original series provide fans with a wave of nostalgia that reminds many viewers why they are watching in the first place. It is moments like these that show the potential of the series.
Something that will undoubtedly upset longtime fans is the lack of mystery. One of the most exciting aspects of the original was the enigma of Gossip Girl’s identity, but the reboot makes the confusing decision to reveal the identity of the elusive blogger, who now uses Instagram instead of an online blog, in the first 15 minutes of the episode.
Another fault of the reboot is the lack of chemistry among the central group of students. The writers make clear attempts to recreate the Blair, Serena and Nate of the original with the less interesting Julien, Zoya and Aki. While the actors portraying them give adequate performances, the writing often reveals the show’s desperate attempts to recreate the original’s characters.
In a way, the reboot does successfully freshen up some of the dated plot points of the initial series, with a diverse cast of sex-positive non-heteronormative characters providing a more realistic look at New York City than the original series. Excellent costuming and fashion choices were another highlight of the episode, bringing the same adventurous fashion choices that made the original so striking.
Maybe in years to come, people will look back at the “Gossip Girl” reboot as a screenshot of a culture obsessed with social media and public perception, but in 2021 it feels far too superficial and empty to compare to the original.